Visually, Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s "Climates" is bravura filmmaking â€” the shots are exquisitely composed, and the takes are long enough to take full advantage of the fact, lingering on faces, on curves of body parts, on late afternoon sunlight falling just so. Underlying all this is an indifferent 60s-ish arthouse drama about a relationship’s implosion and aftermath. Ceylan’s work openly invokes Tarkovsky and Antonioni, but he doesn’t have the emotional heft to hold such images on screen. Scenes like the one in which main character Isa (played by Ceylan himself) rapes/seduces an old flame on the floor of her apartment next to a nut (possibly Macadamia) that was dropped earlier are doubtless meant to seethe with undercurrents of tortured emotion, but mostly left us choking back laughter.
Ceylan is a scruffily charismatic presence on camera, halfway balancing out his character’s general dislikability. Isa is a professor at a university in Istanbul who’s meandering toward finishing his thesis, and who breaks up with his younger girlfriend Bahar (Ebru Ceylan, Ceylan’s real-life wife) while on vacation in a sweltering seaside town. Bahar is a more nebulous presence; asleep on the beach, she dreams of Isa playfully covering her body with sand, and then, on a sudden, sadistic impulse, her face â€” a scene that speaks volumes about their relationship. Her passivity seems a kind of defensive posture, but she also displays flickers of both sensibility and petulance.
Back in Istanbul in a rainy fall season, Isa resumes teaching and a relationship with his former lover Serap, plays tennis with a colleague and visits his parents. He hears that Bahar has moved to the East, and hearing about her sparks some yearning or at least avidity. He travels to the snowy town to try to win her back.
We’re surely not meant to hope Isa and Bahar resume their emotionally despondent relationship, but we’re also surely not meant to hope that one or both decides to jump off a bridge either. Still, "Climates" is unforgettably lovely, probably the most visually impressive film of the festival â€” the first third in particular is lingering in our head. We just wish there was more to back that up.
Screens October 12 and 14 and Alice Tully Hall; opens in New York October 27.